Overnight Defense

Overnight Defense: How members of the Armed Services committees fared in Tuesday’s elections | Military ballots among those uncounted in too-close-to-call presidential race | Ninth US service member killed by COVID-19

Greg Nash

Happy Wednesday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.

THE TOPLINE: The presidential race is still too close to call, as are several hotly contested Senate races.

For defense watchers, those Senate races include several members of the Senate Armed Services Committee: Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

The leaders of the committee — Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and ranking member Jack Reed (D-R.I.) — easily won reelection as expected.

If the Democrats win control of the Senate, Inhofe and Reed would switch job titles. But that is looking increasingly unlikely after Democrats failed to flip several seats they were targeting.

Among those Democrats didn’t flip was committee member Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa), who emerged victorious against Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield.

One seat Democrats are poised to pick up is committee member Sen. Martha McSally’s (R-Ariz.). The Associated Press and other outlets called the race for Democratic challenger Mark Kelly, a retired Navy captain and astronaut, but McSally has not yet conceded.

As expected, Democratic committee member Doug Jones (Ala.) lost to Republican challenger Tommy Tuberville.

Committee members Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H) won reelection.

In the House: Over in the House Armed Services Committee, Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) easily defeated his Republican opponent in his safely blue district.

Meanwhile, a couple vulnerable Democratic freshmen committee members, Reps. Kendra Horn (Okla.) and Xochitl Torres Small (N.M.), lost to their Republican challengers.

Rep. Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), another frontline Democrat on the committee, pulled out a win to keep her seat. 

Freshman committee Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) also won a second term

On the Republican side, Rep. Mike Turner (Ohio) won reelection after one of his toughest races yet. 

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) also won reelection after a hotly contested race.

Former White House doctor Ronny Jackson, who has become a very close ally of President Trump’s, won his race as expected to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), the ranking member of the committee.

In the presidential election: As noted above, the race between Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden is still too close to call.

That is putting a spotlight on the absentee ballots cast by members of the military that have yet to be counted.

Tens of thousands of military ballots are likely among those that still need to be counted in key swing states.

In Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Nevada, pivotal states that have yet to be called, absentee ballots from military and overseas voters can arrive until next week, while such ballots can arrive in uncalled Georgia until Friday.

While it’s unclear exactly how many military ballots are outstanding in all of those states, four years ago, those voters sent mail-in ballots by the thousands.

“We won’t know the exact number of ballots outstanding, but past elections show the importance of counting these votes,” said Jack Noland, research manager at Count Every Hero, an organization focused on ensuring military ballots are counted.

“An important caveat is that we can’t know for certain, but I think it goes without saying that if the race becomes particularly tight these ballots could be vital,” he added in an email. “This year — especially because of the impacts of COVID-19 — the integrity of the election rests on mail-in votes, including ballots from members of the military, being validated and counted. We must count every ballot.”

NINTH MILITARY COVID DEATH: While it can seem like the election is the only story right now, other news marches on.

The COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, with a grim reminder of it Wednesday as the Pentagon reported a ninth service member death.

The death was noted in Wednesday’s update of the online chart the Pentagon maintains of COVID-19 cases connected to the department.

Spokespeople at the Pentagon and National Guard Bureau said the service member was a Texas Air National Guardsman. A spokesperson for the Texas National Guard could not immediately provide more information about the individual.

The death is the third guardsman. Five others have been reservists, and one has been an active-duty service member.

Broader numbers: In total, the Pentagon has reported 86,735 cases of COVID-19 connected to the department, according to Wednesday’s figures.

That includes 58,968 cases among service members, 39,012 of whom have recovered and 755 of whom have been hospitalized over the course of the pandemic.

There have also been 13,714 cases among civilians, 8,597 cases among dependents and 5,456 cases among contractors. There have been 68 civilian deaths, eight dependent deaths and 26 contractor deaths, according to Wednesday’s chart.

COAST GUARD SEES RISE IN SEXUAL ASSAULT REPORTS: Reports of sexual assault are on the rise in the U.S. Coast Guard, according to newly released reports to Congress.

Since 2007 the Coast Guard has struggled with a consistent increase in reported sexual assaults, show internal annual reports posted online this week.

While the number of reported sexual assaults decreased from 248 in fiscal 2018 to 225 in fiscal 2019, sexual harassment allegations rose from 57 to 89 in the same period, according to the fiscal 2019 report.

The reports do not give a reason for the rise, though Coast Guard leaders have said in the past that it could be an indication that more people are willing to come forward due to greater confidence in the reporting system and victim support.

“The Coast Guard has developed a more nuanced approach to addressing Sexual Assault in coordination with the Department of Defense and external agencies,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said in the report. “The Coast Guard continues to center the lot of its efforts within the Sexual Assault Prevention, Response, and Recovery program on prevention and recovery assistance.”


Gen. James Dickinson, commander of U.S. Space Command, will speak at the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium 365 at 11 a.m. https://bit.ly/362UBjP


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Tags Adam Smith Dan Sullivan Donald Trump doug jones Elaine Luria Elissa Slotkin Gary Peters Jack Reed Jeanne Shaheen Joe Biden Joni Ernst Kendra Horn Mac Thornberry Martha McSally Mike Rounds Mike Turner Thom Tillis Tom Cotton

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